Monday, May 28th, 2007
A few weeks ago I said I’d write about different groups having different perspectives.
My last interview in Jordan was unsettling. It wasn’t with a woman but a sweet, gentle man who had worked as a translator for the US forces. This man, Abu Muber* loves America, and during his year working with the US soldiers he was treated with more respect than he had ever received in his life. He’d worked for the British and been treated like a low-level lackey and so quit after a few months to translate for the Americans. He was a great asset, translating the deeper meanings and giving insight into the Iraqi culture and mind-set rather than just giving verbatim translations. In mid-2004, an envelope with three bullets in it was delivered to his house. He had been discovered to be a collaborator and the extra bullets were a warning that it wasn’t only he who was at risk. So, he quit and moved his family to Jordan where he’s currently waiting for his visa application to be processed. It costs $565 or $755 per person, depending on the type of immigrant visa one applies for. The truth is that although he has many glowing recommendations, he is unlikely to get his wish and his money will be wasted. Read more »
Sunday, May 20th, 2007
Naghia was eleven and living in Baghdad when the Iran-Iraq war broke out. Her father owned a restaurant, but lost it when he was drafted to fight. Being Chaldean Christian, they were otherwise left alone by Saddam’s regime. Even so, times got hard economically, and by the time Naghia got her BA in store management, she had to abandon plans for a Masters degree and work to help support her family. She got a job managing the stores of the Department of Education, earning a decent salary. In the early 90’s however, during the sanctions, her pay was reduced to the equivalent of $2.00 a month, both because the government couldn’t afford to pay her, coupled with the devaluation of the Iraqi Dinar. So, she quit and began doing volunteer work at the church, helping poor families as a kind of case-worker. In turn they helped her and her family. About 11 years ago, her sister had an opportunity to go to the Netherlands and abandoned her son to Naghia’s care. When some of Saddam’s men had begun questioning her father about what he may have overheard as proprietor of his restaurant, and made it clear that they would all suffer if he didn’t cooperate, he decided that he’d rather leave than inform. Read more »
Monday, May 14th, 2007
Isra was born into an upper middle class family. Her father worked in the oil industry under Saddam. They lived in Basra, in the southern part of Iraq by the Kuwaiti border, until she was 11. She had a nice, carefree life; going to social clubs, swimming, hanging out with her friends and going to school. When the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, her father was transferred to Baghdad. In some ways the war didn’t affect her external life too much; she still continued with school, she made new friends and lived her teenaged-life. On the other hand, it deeply saddened her since she lost a lot of relatives who were sent off to fight in that war. She’s angry about that war that “was for no reason”. Read more »
Sunday, May 6th, 2007
Yesterday, I visited with Jamila, the 61 year-old mother of Ali*, an ex-translator for the US military. Jamila is very unique, both in her creative personality as well as the fact that both of her parents and also her grandfather (born in 1900) were well educated. She was at a clinic when she met the sister of her future husband. The sister reported back that she had found a suitable marriage candidate. His family further investigated her family and decided that they were suitable, so he paid her a visit to ask for her hand. Everyone agreed because he was also educated and seemed kindly. Over the course of the next 3 years, they got to know each other better when he would pay visits to them. They never did go out together until after they were married. Unlike in Afghanistan, it would have been fine for her to change her mind at this late date and back out of the marriage. She told me that in the Koran it says that the woman must also agree to the marriage. Read more »
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007
Women Worldwide Speak is an outgrowth of The Afghan Women’s Project which I created in 2002 to dispel the view, so prevalent in the media of that time, of Afghan women as helpless victims. After traveling to Afghanistan in 2003 and interviewing 40 women in and from different parts of the country, I created an exhibit and series of slide presentations which I show around the US. (www.kelseys.net)
Now, four years later, I was again drawn to document the stories of women, this time of Iraqi refugee women living in Jordan.
So, now I’m here in Amman visiting agencies and conducting interviews. And of course photographing, but none of the faces will be included here. The majority of the Iraqi refugees living here are illegal.
Zahra, my translator, is a delightful woman, a one-woman social work agency. Her family life growing up was difficult. Although she was by far the best student, and voluntarily spent hours cleaning the house, her mother and siblings treated her badly, perhaps jealous of her academic prowess and her drive to improve her surroundings. Her father was her only ally, but he was taken away (They came to her house and arrested him) by Saddam’s henchmen when she was 11. Her brother, a pilot who lived the “high life”, was also taken away a few years later. After two years of torture and 10 years of confinement, he has become a strict fundamentalist Muslim. One day when she was 19, she came home to find that her mother had made an agreement to marry her off. It didn’t work out and now she lives with and supports her two teenage daughters.
When Zahra came to Jordan 6 years ago, she was given a 6-month visa, which she had to leave the country to renew and did several times. Since she speaks English, she was able to get work with an NGO (an international non-profit) and this opened up the path of social work for her. The NGO eventually went out of business, but Zahra has kept up her work connecting poor Iraqis with agencies who could help them. She supports herself by doing translation work as well as contract wedding photography.
May 13th, she will begin a 3-month trip to the United States, taking training in Vermont and speaking in Philadelphia, the Seattle area and Texas. I will keep you posted on her itinerary as it develops.
May 3rd, 2007, the Iraqi parliament will vote on oil legislation that would give 70% of the oil profit the to the oil companies and 12% to Iraq. Currently, of course, when it’s all running, Iraq gets 100%. The parliament is expected to vote against this, of course, but everyone thinks that Malaki will overrule them. The fellow we talked with thinks that the Malaki gov’t. (executive branch) won’t last through the summer. We’ll see.